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Police science and the genealogy of automotion

| 14 November 1997
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disorder was replaced by functional order, diversity
by serial repetition, and surprize by uniform expectancy
— Christine Boyer

Since I arrived here I’ve been mainly concerned with the works of Michel Foucault and Paul Virilio. Throwing both together – I have argued – is an important first step in understanding the genealogy and domination of globalization. Yet although my driving force for doing this work at all is to mark out and locate political technology in the present, as I have worked on this project it has become increasingly clear to me that it is not possible to take this technology of power as one only inscripted in the discourses and practices of our own special ‘nowtime’. Rather, I have found myself tracking, if not hunting out, a deeper set of impulses that seem to run throughout the heart of modernity, and within it, the constitution of civic security in its widest application.

So when I proposed a title for this session I thought it might be worthwhile to attempt to outline this application and its genealogical development through a careful study of the doctrines and evolution of that field of knowledge most apt and concerned with ‘civic security’ in the formative years of the modern period. Understanding this field of knowledge – what was known at the time as politizeiwissenschaft, cameralistics, or police science – is, I will argue, essential in our attempts to locate contemporary power and the power to govern. We still exist within the parameters of a technology of power imagined and enacted in the classical age. Though this may sound like a bold statement, it isn’t. That the modern age is indebted to the classical age has often been noted. Even the correspondence between modern liberalism and early-modern police science – my focus here – has been suggested elsewhere. In the words of Marc Raeff,

Even a hasty perusal of collections of police ordinances indicates that the major elements of what we usually subsume under Enlightenment notions were, in the latter decades of the seventeenth century, being introduced pragmatically .. Thus, for instance, we note rational persuasion and appeal to individual initiative and self-interest .. of freedom of individual activity as a prerequisite of individual self-development .. (Raeff, 1975, pp. 1233).

In that case we might ask why the likes of Johann von Justi, Joachim Darjes, Justus Dithmar, Johann Moser, Ludwig von Seckendorff and Georg Heinrich Zinke, among others, have become such forgotten names in our general discussions of government and the power to govern. Perhaps we should rediscover their lost registers in the hope of better understanding the essential prehistory of our contemporary experience of ‘the political’. That at least was my aim when I set out into the dark archive with my lantern.

Unfortunately, I failed in my own task. So I ask you to bear in mind that the argument that follows is fragile, schematised too violently by far, and only one element in what is surely a rich pattern; that which makes up our modern experience of power, space, knowledge and time (the parameters of civic security). Let me spell out my thesis. Five thresholds – I argue – can be traced within our overall modern experience of civic security. The last of which we are arriving at now. The first threshold emerges with the birth of the modern state itself. It is characterised by a technology of power concerned to fix populations in space and time. The second threshold emerges with the birth of police science in early modern Europe. It is characterised by the investment in bodies as dispensers of forces. The third threshold emerges in the age of Baroque commerce. It is characterised by the biologicalization of the state under the metaphors of circulation and flow. The fourth threshold is marked by the end of the French Revolution. It is characterised by a technology that will invest in motorization. The final threshold is marked by the age of telepresence. It is characterised by the final geometrical extension of the power to govern in the automotion of ‘real-time’.

None of these thresholds would have been imaginable without a basic shift in the nature of power to which I will return shortly.

Frozen space

I want to begin by quoting at length a quite stunning description from the third section of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Here Foucault recounts the measures to be taken, according to an order published in the 17th century, when a plague appeared in a town.

First, a strict spatial partitioning: the closing of the town and its outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death, the killing of all stray animals; the division of the town into distinct quarters, each governed by an intendant. Each street is placed under the authority of a syndic, who keeps it under surveillance; if he leaves the street, he will be condemned to death. On the appointed day, everyone is ordered to stay indoors: it is forbidden to leave on pain of death .. Each family will have made its own provisions; but, for bread and wine, small wooden canals are set up between the street and the interior of houses, thus allowing each person to receive his ration without communicating with the suppliers and other residents; meat, fish and herbs will be hoisted up into the houses with pulleys and baskets. If it is absolutely necessary to leave the house, it will be done in turn, avoiding any meeting. Only the intendants, syndics and guards will move about the streets and also, between the infected houses, from one corpse to another .. It is segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment.
Inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere: ‘A considerable body of militia, commanded by good officers and men of substance’, guards at the gates, at the town hall and in every quarter to ensure the prompt obedience of the people and the most absolute authority of the magistrates .. Every day, too, the syndic goes into the street for which he is responsible; stops before each house: gets all the inhabitants to appear at the windows .. calls each of them by name; informs himself as to the state of each and every one of them – ‘in which respect the inhabitants will be compelled to speak the truth under pain of death’ .. Everyone locked up in his cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing himself when asked – it is the great review of the living and the dead. (Foucault, 1977, pp. 195-6).

This desire to see all, to set forth a ‘system of permanent registration’, survived well into the modern period. A perfect representation of this immobilization can be found in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s (1995) The Horseman on the Roof, where lead characters Olivier Martinez and Juliette Binoche struggle to escape the military descent upon a plagued 1830s Provence.

But this ‘freezing’ of space and time was not only an emergency measure. As Foucault describes, it was also an administrative goal; seen first on the military courtyard,

On 15 March 1666, Louis XIV took his first military review: 18,000 men, ‘one of the most spectacular actions of the reign’, which was supposed to have kept all Europe in disquiet’. Several years later, a medal was struck to commemorate the event. It bears the exergue, ‘Disciplina militaris restitua’ and the legend ‘Prolusio ad victorias’. On the right, the king, right foot forward, commands the exercise itself with a stick. On the left, several ranks of soldiers are shown full face and aligned in depth; they have raised their right arms to shoulder height and are holding their rifles exactly vertical, their right legs are slightly forward and their feet turned outwards. On the ground, lines intersect at right angles, to form, beneath the soldiers’ feet, broad rectangles that serve as references for different phases and positions of the exercise. In the background is a piece of classical architecture. The columns of the palace extend those formed by the ranks of men and the erect rifles, just as the paving no doubt extends the lines of the exercise. But above the balustrade that crowns the building are statues representing dancing figures: sinuous lines, rounded gestures, draperies. The marble is covered with movements whose principle of unity is harmonic. The men, on the other hand, are frozen into a uniformly repeated attitude of ranks and lines: a tactical unity (Foucault, 1977, p., 188).

This amazing reversal of function – stone dancing, men frozen – is what essentially characterises the first threshold of modern civic security. It gave the sign and correlative disciplines that would come to define the ‘state of emergency’, ‘traversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing .. immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies’ – this was ‘the utopia of the perfectly governed city’ (Foucault, 1977, p. 198). In the pages that follow, Foucault describes how this complete control of movement and gesture would be enshrined not only as an emergency medical measure, but a constant capillary power in the over-exposed cell of the modern prison, workhouse, factory, school and asylum. The entire space of early-modern Europe, as attested in portraiture, architecture, pastimes and trivial pursuits, would be modelled on the pose of the frozen soldier.

The discovery of motion

It is important however to see this as an ideal, for in reality by the end of the 17th century the broad technology of power that underpinned society had already long passed its second major threshold, entailing a profound culmination of transformative impulses at least as far back as the 16th and 15th, if not 14th and 13th centuries (Burckhardt, 1960, Huizinga, 1927). In his introduction to the multi-volume The History of Sexuality, Foucault described in outline the nature of this culmination. ‘Since the classical age’, he wrote,

“Deduction” has tended to be no longer the major form of power but merely one element among others, working to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimise, and organize the forces under it: a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them (Foucault, 1979, p., 136).

What consequence, asked Foucault, does the rise of enabling power have for notions and practices of political right and practical government? For Foucault this ascendance marked the threshold of what he termed the ‘age of bio-power’. Two poles of political intervention emerged; a ‘great bipolar technology’ of power over life. The first centred on the ‘body as a machine’; an ‘anatomo-politics’ aimed to extort forces and optimize capabilities, ‘without at the same time making them more difficult to govern’ (Foucault, 1979, p. 141). The second centred on the ‘adjustment of the phenomena of population’; a ‘bio-politics’ focused on demography, the synchronization of resources and citizens, the social constitution of contracts and interests, wherein the health and well-being of the civitas became a ‘general objective of policy’ and domain of investment.

In Foucault’s philosophical and historical works this theme of the discovery of usable forces in positive constitution of modern society is well established; from Madness and Civilization (as much a tour-de-force on the birth of ‘industrious society’ as a history of insanity), through The Birth of the Clinic (note in particular the discussions of the ‘political consciousness’ of the well-governed body), to The History of Sexuality (on the birth of the ‘knowing subject’, and the body that constitutes itself as an object of knowledge). His description, however, of the ‘discovery of society’ is attested nowhere better than in his excavations of raison d’etat, politizeiwissenschaft, and what he called ‘governmentality’ (Foucault, 1979, 1981, 1991). These writings are particularly significant in that they entailed a refocusing of Foucault’s own historical gaze. Rather than be satisfied with the archaeology of the ‘dark, but firm web of our experience’ (Foucault, 1973, p. 199), Foucault increasingly turned his attention to the ‘absolutely conscious strategy’ attested in both political texts and the ‘mass of unknown documents’ constitutive of government; its historical politics, techniques and practices. ‘Governmentalization’ was, for Foucault,

1) The ensemble formed by institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power, which has as its target population, as its principal form of knowledge political economy, and its essential technical means apparatuses of security.
2) The tendency which, over a long period and throughout the West, has steadily led towards the pre-eminence over all other forms (sovereignty, discipline, etc.) of this type of power which may be termed government, resulting, on the one hand in the formation of a whole series of specific governmental apparatuses, and, on the other, in the development of a whole complex of savoirs.
3) The process, or rather the result of the process, through which the state of justice of the Middle Ages, transformed into the administrative state during the fifteenth and sixteenth century, gradually becomes ‘governmentalised’ .. (Foucault, 1991, pp. 102-3).

The essential prehistory to this ‘governmentalization of the state’ was the emergence of populations as a statistical problem.1 For Foucault this emerges first in the notion of raison d’etat, where the greatness of cities and states is linked to the strength and productivity of the civitas.2 Added to the ‘great eighteenth-century demographic upswing in Western Europe’ – no doubt in part a consequence of this new concern with the collective power of people – and ‘the necessity for co-ordinating and integrating it into the apparatus of production and the urgency of controlling it with finer and more adequate power mechanisms’,

‘population’, with its numerical variables of space and chronology, longevity and health .. [emerges] .. not only as a problem but an object of surveillance, analysis, intervention, modification, etc. The project of a technology of population begins to be sketched .. (Foucault, 1980, p., 171).

Epitomised in the writings of Seckendorff (1656, 1693), Wolff (1719, 1728), Dithmar (1731), Darjes (1749, 1753, 1756, 1776), Zinke (1751), Moser (1758), Bergius (1767-74), and Mueller (1790), among others, the aim of this new technology of population – known to contemporaries as ‘cameralistics’, Oeconomie, polizeiwissenschaft, or ‘police science’ – was to make individuals ‘useful for the world’ in such a way that ‘their development also fosters the strength of the state’ (Foucault, 1981, p. 252).3 This strength of the state was conceived in two ways: one the one hand, as the material result of the harnessing and channelling of energies (industry) into the productive economy, and on the other, as the securitization of governance through workfare, occupation and the incentive to profit (enrichment). Productivity, diligence and happiness emerged as the objectives of the mode of government that dominated the classical age; simultaneously differentiated (in the classification and organization of bodies) and aggregated (in the policing of rhythms and processes of populations). The dream of automotion was taking shape.

In the words of Martin Heidegger, ‘The breeding of human beings is not a taming in the sense of a suppression and hobbling of sensuality; rather, breeding is the accumulation and purification of energies in the univocity of the strictly controllable ‘automatism’ of every activity’ (Heidegger, 1991, pp. 230-1). Not least the most important innovation of the classical age was the emergence of a form of political reason that would take as its focus the knowledge and facilitation of this automatism. From Leonardo’s anatomical notes and drawings, Versalius’ first public anatomy and De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), Descartes’ declaration that the body is no more than an ensemble of ‘moving machines’, Hobbes’ assertion that the universe is ‘corporeal’, the flashpoints in that history are no doubt well known. What was emerging was a new spatial imagination of human existence, but also a temporal one.

As Jonathan Sawday has so rightly described,

Mechanism offered the prospect of a radically reconstituted body. Forged into a working machine, the mechanical body appeared fundamentally different from the geographic body whose contours expressed a static landscape without dynamic interconnection. More than this, however, the body as a machine, as a clock, as an automaton, was understood as having no intellect of its own. Instead, it silently operated according to the laws of mechanics .. The political implications of this process of thought were immense (Sawday, 1995, p. 29).

One doesn’t have to take too many guesses to find the link between the new body of regular motion and the birth of the disciplined and tranquil society dreamed of by the 18th century practitioners of ‘police science’.4 With the discovery of planetary motion, the psychology of perception and duration, the social diffusion of the clock, the rise of artistic perspectivism, and the mathematical and geometrical revolutions, a new interest in the possibilities and aesthetics of uniform motion was born (Hall, 1983, Reiss, 1997, Mumford, 1934, 1961). Uniformity through space: the automata of movement fast came to define the parameters of ‘public safety’, good order, and the functioning society.

The great displacement

This link between motion and civic order has been highlighted in a number of works by Michel Foucault. In Madness and Civilization (1967, pp. 123-34, pp. 160-77), for example, Foucault described how reason itself was constituted in the classical age in reference to the extremes of movement; mania related to an ‘excessive mobility of the fibres’, leading to a lightness in disposition, and melancholia to a congestion and thickening of the blood, and subsequent dullness of character. What emerged was not only a medical perception of the corporeal body, but a series of practices, suggestions and knowledges aimed to regulate motion in the body-politic. The testing ground was the body of unreason, where mobility,

must be measured and controlled; it must not become a vain agitation of the fibres which no longer obey the stimuli of the exterior world .. the cure consists in reviving in the sufferer a movement that will be both regular and real, in the sense that it will obey the rules of the world’s movements (Foucault, 1967, pp. 172-3).

The result, as Foucault described (and also in Discipline and Punish) was the gradual emergence of a ‘science of time’ mediating man’s relation to motion within the confines of acceptable limits to reason and order defined in the movements of the natural world and celestial heavens. The condemnation of idleness as the ‘source of all disorders’, culminating in the obligation to work (Huizinga, 1927, Foucault, 1967) is perhaps the most conspicuous indication of the links newly forged between motion, good order and the individual. As Mumford describes, ‘Time as pure duration, time dedicated to contemplation and reverie, time divorced from mechanical operations, was treated as a heinous waste’ (Mumford, 1934, p. 197). In this, ‘the “power” of the soul gave way to a sequence of mechanical movements .. the silent forces of springs, wheels, and cogs, operating as a contrived whole’. As Sawday continues, ‘The modern body had emerged: a body which worked rather than existed’ (Sawday, 1995, p. 32).

In Flesh and Stone, Richard Sennett takes up the point of how these references to motion (through medical perception and the birth of the productive economy) came to define the early-modern city. In doing so, Sennett, like Foucault, makes the crucial link between the organization of bodies and that of the broader body-politic. New principles of urban planning and policing were emerging based upon new medical metaphors of ‘circulation’ and ‘flow’ (Harvey, 1628, Willis, 1684). The health of the body became the comparison against which the greatness of cities and states would be measured. The ‘veins’ and ‘arteries’ of the new urban design were to be freed from all sources of possible blockage,

Enlightened planners wanted the city in its very design to function like a healthy body, freely flowing as well as possessed of clear skin. Since the beginnings of the Baroque era, urban planners had thought about making cities in terms of efficient circulation of the people on the city’s main streets .. The medical imagery of life-giving circulation gave a new meaning to the Baroque emphasis of motion (Sennett, 1994, pp. 263-4).

The regularisation of cleanliness and sanitation, and the removal of madmen, beggars and idlers from the highway can be related to the question of the efficiency of movement that dominated the historical imaginary of the classical age. As Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1748) would remark, only organized matter was endowed with the principle of motion. We may also add that matter endowed with the principle of motion was increasingly regarded as ‘ordered’. What was emerging was a particular relation between politics, space and time. Expressed with perfection in the words of Guillaute (a French police officer writing in 1749), ‘Public order will reign if we are careful to distribute our human time and space by a severe regulation of transit; if we are attentive to schedules as well as to alignments and signal systems; if by environmental standardization the entire city is made transparent, that is, familiar to the policeman’s eye’ (Guillaute, quoted in Virilio, 1986, p. 18).

Here again it is necessary to remember the military; both in their impact on cities and their impact on bodies. In terms of the former, as Mumford describes,

To achieve the maximum appearance of order and power on parade, it is necessary to provide a body of soldiers either with an open square or a long unbroken avenue .. a moving regiment gives the impression that it would break through a solid wall .. [which] .. is exactly the belief that the soldier and the Prince desire to inculcate in the populace: it helps to keep them in order without coming to an actual trial of strength .. (Mumford, 1961, p. 369).

In terms of the latter – as described earlier – before man could be made to run at the enemy he has first to be taught how to stand in space and time. The neostoic revival in military discipline and drill embodied in the practices and procedures of Lipsius, Maurice of Nassau, Gustavus and Montecuccoli, and passed through to Eugene, Marlborough, Guibert and Frederick II, and the French Revolutionaries also helped set the technical parameters of government.5 Practised first on the military courtyard, and then in the field, the hospital, the workhouse, the almshouse, the prison, the birth of a new age of military logistics is inseparable from the episteme of organized motion emerging as a political technology of civic order.6 Progressively as we move through the third threshold – what we may call the ‘great displacement’ – the image of society emerging was one of a complex of relays; each to be synchronised, made efficient and effective. In the remarkable words of Johann von Justi (1755, 1761-4, 1769), ‘A properly constituted state must be exactly analogous to a machine, in which all the wheels and gears are precisely adjusted to one another; and the ruler must be the foreman, and the main-spring, or the soul .. which sets everything in motion’ (Justi, quoted in Parry, 1963, p. 182).

Frederick the Great, the ’meticulous king of small machines’, was surely the first statesman to bring together the two themes that would dominate the historical horizon of the modern period; bio-power and moving-power. By the turn of the 19thC these themes were running in parallel, a fact of which Foucault seemed well aware,

At first, [disciplines] were expected to neutralise dangers, to fix useless or disturbed populations, to avoid the inconveniences of over-large assemblies; now they were being asked to play a positive role, for they were becoming able to do so, to increase the possible utility of individuals. Military discipline .. increases the skill of each individual, coordinates these skills, accelerates movements, increases fire power, broadens the front of attack without reducing their vigour .. The discipline of the workshop, while remaining a way of enforcing respect for the regulations and authorities, of preventing thefts or losses, ends to increase aptitudes, speeds, output and therefore profits; it still exerts a moral influence over behaviour, but more and more it treats actions in terms of their results, introduces bodies into a machinery, forces into an economy (Foucault, 1977, p. 210).

A ‘collective, obligatory rhythm’ was emerging; a ‘meticulous meshing’. ‘We have passed’, Foucault continues,

from a form of injunction that measured or punctuated gestures to a web that constrains them or sustains them throughout their entire succession. A sort of anatomo-chronological schema of behaviour is defined .. Time penetrates the body and with it all the meticulous controls of power .. Disciplinary control does not consist simply in teaching or imposing a series of particular gestures; it imposes the best relations between a gesture and the overall position of the body, which its condition of efficiency and speed .. The principle that underlay the time-table in its traditional form was essentially negative; it was the principle of non-idleness .. Discipline, on the other hand, arranges a positive economy: it poses the principle of a theoretically ever-growing use of time: exhaustion rather than use; it is a question of extracting, from time, ever more available moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces. This means that one must seek to intensify the use of the slightest moment, as if time, in its very fragmentation, were inexhaustible or as if, at least by an ever more detailed internal arrangement, one could tend towards an ideal point at which one maintained maximum speed and maximum efficiency .. (Foucault, 1977, p. 210).

As Foucault goes on to describe, it was exactly this implementation of a new economy of movement through time that enabled Frederick to dominate the 18thC, becoming the model for military knowledge from there on in. Speed was to be taught as a virtue.

The dromological revolution

Yet if Frederick was the foreman of this newly constituted machine-in-motion, Napoleon would surely become it’s soul. More than anyone prior, he would embody the next phase of history, defined not so much by the ‘art of governing’, as what we might describe – with a certain sense of misgiving – as the ‘art of motorizing’.7 Under the Committee of Public Safety the levée en masse is established providing the first clear model of modern conscription. Perfected by the hand of Bonaparte, the energy thrown into the conduct of war was ‘immensely increased’, with whole populations ‘mobilized for the purpose of wholesale slaughter’ (Foucault, 1979, p. 137).

And not only in warfare did the principle of speed dominate, but also in his Civil Code – the Code Napoléon - of which he claimed the, ‘most compact government with the most rapid circulation and the most energetic movement that ever existed’ (Napoleon, quoted in Crawley, 1965, p. 319). All of this was unthinkable without the elaborate ensemble of powers in which the new kinetic state was anchored; the disciplinary codes that would come to define modern governance. Prefigured perfectly in the words of French military reformer Comte de Guilbert,

What I want to avoid is that my supplies should command me. It is in this case my movement that is the main thing; all other combinations are accessory and I must try to make them subordinate to the movement (Guibert, in Crawley, 1965, p. 74).

‘The best soldier’ Napoleon would declare, ‘is not so much the one who fights as the one who marches’ (Napoleon, quoted in Durant, 1975, p. 247). There is no doubt that this marks a threshold in the ‘evolution of human efforts to organize life on the planet’, militarily, governmentally and geo-strategically.

It is this moment in history that serves as urbanist Paul Virilio’s point of departure. Like Foucault, Mumford and Sennett, Virilio is also concerned with the birth of a new technical, geometric, chronographic imagination of men and things. What Virilio adds to the story is a more focused description of the 19th and 20th century experience of moving, and its correspondence with political technology and the genealogy of governance. ‘Up until the nineteenth century’ Virilio writes, ‘society was founded on the brake’ (Virilio and Lotringer, 1983, pp. 44-5). Agrarian society then gives way to industrial or transportational society (or in Virilio’s terms, ‘dromocratic society’8 … ). This society is built upon the possibility of ‘fabricating speed’. ‘And so they can pass from the age of the brakes to the age of the accelerator. In other words, power will be invested in acceleration itself’ (Virilio, in Virilio and Lotringer, 1983, pp. 44-5).9 An ‘unrecognised order of political circulation’ was emerging, crystallised in the French Revolution. The events of 1789, he writes,

claimed to be a revolt against subjection, that is, against the constraint to immobility symbolised by the ancient feudal serfdom .. the arbitrary confinement and obligation to reside in one place. But no one yet suspected that the ‘conquest of the freedom to come and go’ so dear to Montaigne could, by a sleight of hand, become an obligation to mobility. The ‘mass uprising’ of 1793 was the institution of the first dictatorship of movement, subtly replacing the freedom of movement of the early days of the revolution. The reality of power in this first modern State appears beyond the accumulation of violence as an accumulation of movement (Virilio, 1986, p. 30).

The stage had been set for Bonaparte. As Will and Ariel Durant have described, ‘With Napoleon the ecstasy of liberty yielded to the dictatorship of order’ (Durant, 1975, p. 240).

From this consolidation point (of a broader political investment in motion running parallel to the rise of the money economy, the militant-bureaucratic state, and new advances in the physical and medical sciences), Virilio goes on to chart the active planning of the time and space horizons of whole societies; what he calls the, ‘primordial control of the masses by the organisms of urban defense’ (Virilio, 1986, p. 15). For Virilio then, as for Foucault, the aims of modern political rationality are clear; to make mobile the citizenry within the parameters of order, reason and tranquillity. Deterritorializing in a double sense (the investment in motion and the targeting of the populace), individuals become subordinated to a higher realm of ordering beyond territorialism: speed. ‘Revolution’ replaces ‘circulation’, automotion supplants motion: the increase in pace acting to secure tranquillity through compulsion; what Paul Virilio (1986, p. 46) has termed the ‘peace of exhaustion’. In essence (though largely unrecognised even by himself) Virilio’s work describes in outline the political technique through which the ‘problem’ of early modernity (of how to maximise the power of individuals for the prestige of the state within the confines of stability and good order) was transcended and neutralised.

Over the modern period proper, no longer is the dilemma of government how to mediate between the extremes of rapidity and stasis, productionism and docility, circulation and revolution. By the time of Napoleon, not only now would political rationality understand the motion of matter and bodies, it would seek above all to perfect the mechanisms of producing it. The ‘movement-of-movement’ as a technical achievement, emerges at this time (the early 19thC) as a societal principle, reordering the whole of the modern world. ‘What, then’ writes N.H. Gibbs, ‘was Napoleon’s distinguishing mark as a “great captain”?’,

It was his ability to move very large armies, sometimes of 200,000 men and more, across great stretches of the continent at speeds far greater than had hitherto been thought possible .. (Gibbs, in Crawley, 1965, p. 75).

Motion had become speed, and in focussing upon it in the most radical way possible, Paul Virilio begins to answer the question of how efficiency in the governing of men and things was established at the heart of modernity.

Let us imagine the flagpoints of this history in summary form: in early modernity we find a rabble populace, poorly disciplined, wandering and blighted by the spectres of unreason, idleness and environmental destitution. The aim of political reason – in the context of broader societal transformations (the discovery of order through production, the rise of the money economy, commercialism and early mercantilism10 … ) – is to navigate a course between the extremes of revolution and stagnancy. Having recognised that (in the words of Botero) the ‘true strength of a ruler consists in his people’, political rationality aims also to ‘multiply’ the citizenry as a productive force. A new politics of order, both of detail (looking into men’s souls), and of generality (the new concern with the biology of populations) becomes a technical necessity. Working together, these techniques of intervention (‘anatomo-power’ and ‘bio-power’) produced at the heart of the classical age an initial stasis; seen best in the military courtyard, the hospital, the prison and the school. The power of movement was subject to a territorial codification (in the city, in the workhouse, in the asylum, in the manufactory).

By the beginnings of the 19thC the place of the state and political reason in constituting spaces for existence had been secured, and a second ‘reordering’ could now be effected, heralding perhaps less the age of bio-politics as the age of bio-kinesis. Rather than charting the middle ground between rapidity and stasis, power would aim to ‘release’ the full productive, dynamic efficiency of the (national) population in and through time. ‘Motion’ (or more precisely, motorization11 … ) had emerged as the destiny and law of a new politics of order. The full equivalence of Virilio’s ‘metabolic vehicles’ to Foucault’s ‘bearers of order’ becomes clear. ‘Dromological power’ – or in Foucault, ‘capillary power’ – had emerged as the practical basis and first principle of capitalist modernity established simultaneously with the apparatus of modern governance. Mobility, in other words, had become simultaneously the means to liberation and the means to domination; the accumulation of men running hand-in-hand with the accumulation of movement, and the illusion of its sovereign release. Speed was to be taught as a virtue because it had become in itself a discipline.


This final threshold – of speed as discipline – indeed finds its birth in the formative years of modernity, and as such is inextricably linked with it. In the words of Richard Sennett (1994, p. 264), ‘the Enlightenment planner made motion and end in itself.’ No doubt this is when ‘terminality’ (though yet to find its linguistic expression) first emerged as the imaginary endpoint to liberal freedom. Expressed so well in the words of Karl Jaspers (1951, p. 17), ‘The surface of the world became universally accessible; space capitulated’. Or as Paul Virilio describes in Speed and Politics (1986, p. 73), ‘the dromocrat’s look .. causes distances to approach.’ An obligation-to-mobility (moving-power) had emerged, that for Virilio this is clearly worrying,

The end-point is reached when humans have become inanimate .. The revolution of the auto, of automobile travel, certainly awakened the illusion of a new nomadism, but in the same stroke the revolution of the audiovisual and electronic media destroyed the illusion once again. With the speed of light the rigour mortis begins, the absolute immobility of humanity. We are heading for paralysis. Not because the surplus of autos brings street traffic to a standstill, but because everyone will have disposal over everything without having to go anywhere (Virilio, 1995c, p. 103).

Does this automotion through telepresence not take us back to Foucault’s disease-ridden town? As William Mitchell (1995, p. 100) in City of Bits, has recently approved, ‘As networks and information appliances deliver expanding ranges of services, there will be fewer occasions to go out’. ‘The crowd’, wrote Foucault, ‘a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together, a collective effect, is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities’ (Foucault, 1977, p. 201). When considered in the context of the rise of neoliberalism – indeed the liberal-rational capitalist project as a whole – one can surely see the answer to the question that Foucault poses for himself: ‘How is power to be strengthened in such a way that, far from impeding progress, far from weighing upon it with its rules and regulations, it actually facilitates such progress?’ (Foucault, 1977, p. 208) This is surely the true achievement of automotion: a form of power that simultaneously fixes and makes mobile to the speed of light the malleable body of the ‘terminal-citizen’.

‘If last century’s revolution in transportation’, writes Virilio,

saw the emergence and gradual popularisation of the dynamic motor vehicle (train, motorbike, car, plane), the current revolution in transmission leads in turn to the innovation of the ultimate vehicle: the static audiovisual vehicle, marking the advent of behavioural inertia .. the witness’s own body becoming the last urban frontier .. Having been first mobile, then motorized, man will thus become motile, deliberately limiting his body’s area of influence to a few gestures, a few impulses, like channel-surfing .. Surely we cannot fail to foresee the future conditioning of the human environment behind this critical transition .. The urbanization of real space is being overtaken by the urbanization of real time which is, at the end of the day, the urbanization of the actual body of the city dweller, this terminal-citizen soon to be decked out to the eyeballs with interactive prostheses based on the pathological model of the ‘spastic’, wired to control his/her domestic environment without having physically to stir: the catastrophic figure of individuals who have lost the capacity for immediate intervention along with natural motricity and who abandon themselves, for want of anything better, to the capabilities of captors, sensors, and other remote scanners that turn them into beings controlled by machines with which, it is said, they are ‘in dialogue’ .. At the end of the century, there will not be much left of the expanse of the planet that is not only polluted but also shrunk, reduced to nothing, by the teletechnologies of generalised interactivity. (Virilio, 1997, p. 11, p. 17, 21).

‘Imagine order’, wrote Robert Musil,

Or, rather, imagine first of all a great idea, and then one still greater, then another still greater than that, and so on, always greater and greater. And then on the same pattern imagine always more order and more order in your own head .. just imagine a complete and universal order embracing all humanity, in a word, a state of perfect civilian order. Take my word for it, it’s sheer entropy, rigor mortis, a landscape on the moon, a geometrical plague (Musil, 1954, pp. 197-8).

Our current danger is that this plague will triumph not because the town is left open and exposed, but because it is frozen, and we with it, in time and space, becoming little more than prisoners of the utopia of the perfectly governed city.

This paper was first presented at the University of Bristol.
  1. See also: Hacking (1975, 1990, 1991).
  2. The publications of Giovanni Botero’s The Greatness of Cities (1588), and Reason of State (1589) are usually taken as a threshold, though he himself emerged in a wider context (in particular, Rosello, Piccolomini, Paschalius and Segni). See: Viroli (1992), Burke (1991), and Tuck (1993).
  3. On ‘police science’ see also: Small (1909), Parry (1963), Johnson (1964), Raeff (1975), Knemeyer (1980), Tribe (1984), Pasquino (1991), and Oestreich (1984).
  4. Sawday even goes so far as to suggest that the move from sovereign to republican notions of governance might find their origin in this reformulation of knowledge of the body. A fascinating notion that might be taken forward (if one at least partially suspends one’s disbelief): republicanism gives way to cameral science, cameral science gives way to political economy, political economy gives way to utilitarianism, utilitarianism gives way to libertarianism, libertarianism gives way to pluralism, pluralism gives way to globalization; all of which perhaps unthinkable without the discovery of the machine image of the body. On the correspondence between metaphors of the body and those of the body-politic, see also: Marcovich (1982), Porter (1993).
  5. See: Paret (1986), pp. 32-213.
  6. For detailed historical discussion see: Crawley (1965), Ward, Prothers and Leathers (1909), and Durant (1963, 1975).
  7. Michel Serres (1975) argues a similar point in analysing the transition from the ‘clockwork age’ to the ‘motor age’. See also: Alborn (1994), and Virilio (1986, 1991b, 1995). Again, the crucial link is the birth of bio-politics, and the transformation of the power to govern. In the words of Carl von Clausewitz (1968, p. 384), ‘War had suddenly become an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the State’.
  8. from dromos, ‘the race’.
  9. A viewpoint supported by Lewis Mumford, ‘From the eighteenth century on, power and speed become the chief criteria of technological progress .. While motor cars are still built with brakes, reverse gears, and steering wheels, as well as accelerators, the power complex today is preoccupied only with acceleration .. ’ (Mumford, 1970, graphic section I/4).
  10. ‘Cities full of tradesmen and craftsmen and merchants love peace and tranquillity.’ (Botero, 1956, p. 102).
  11. See: Schivelbusch (1986) and Dimendberg (1995).
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We negate and we must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm — Friedrich Nietzsche